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A third of school buildings are not fit for purpose - January, 2015

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£78bn could be needed to refurbish schools across England

Over a third (35%) of school buildings in England are not fit for purpose and could need a total of £78 billion to refurbish them according to a survey of school leaders published today by The Key, an organisation which provides support and guidance to school leaders and governors.

Almost six out of 10 (58.31%) school leaders say they would like to improve or repair their current buildings, and nearly half (47%) want to build extra classrooms. The research reveals the need is most acute in the south with 43% of school leaders in the south west and 41% in the south east saying their buildings are not fit for purpose.

Schools cite problems including limited classroom space, overuse of temporary buildings and issues such as rising damp and leaking roofs. They also paint a picture of a general lack of vital facilities needed including pupil intervention rooms, PE equipment storage and spaces to meet parents and other agencies such as social services.

Speaking about the findings, Fergal Roche, CEO of The Key, said: “Our survey clearly shows that more must be done to help school leaders identify funds to support the critical repairs and developments needed in their schools.

“The second phase of the Government’s Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP) will be announced in December. While a further £2 billion is earmarked to rebuild or refurbish schools in the ‘very worst condition’, it will not be used to ‘address the suitability of school buildings’.

“Assuming that the schools identifying themselves as not fit for purpose required the same level of investment as those funded by the PSBP, we estimated that 8521 schools across England could need an investment of up to £78 billion to make them fit for purpose. As a result, this additional funding might be just a drop in the ocean.”

A detailed study on the condition of the entire schools estate by the Government (the Property Data Survey Programme) has yet to report its findings.

Jane Robinson, headteacher, Simon Langton Girls Grammar School, Kent, said: “I have been trying for six years now to get money for rebuild or refurbishment. Our school is a 1950s design with crittall windows that need replacing and flat roofs which leak.”

Sarah Curtis, headteacher, Mayfield Church of England Primary School, East Sussex, said: “We have rising damp as the building is Edwardian mainly, with a 10 year old extension. We also lose most of our outside space to two mobile classrooms.”

Carla Bradshaw, school business manager for the Catholic Schools Cluster on the Isle of Wight, said: “There is a lack in ancillary space: the hall is too small, there is no pupil intervention space, no space to meet with parents or multi-agency meetings, no PE equipment storage space and the playgrounds are marginal in some cases.”

Gary Martin, headteacher, Highfield Hall Primary School, Derbyshire, said: “We are a grade II listed building with little in the budget to reflect that. A lot of the building is in a poor state - windows, boilers, stonework, fire safety infrastructure etc. It is a beautiful place to work but not appropriate for a 21st century education.”

Four out of 10 schools (39%) surveyed have applied for capital funding in the last 18 months, reflecting the need for significant investment in school buildings. Schools are most likely to finance building improvements from their delegated budget (59%) or their local authority (21%) with only one in 10 expecting funding from central government (10%).

Six out of 10 schools surveyed (59%) let their buildings outside of school hours for extra income meaning that buildings falling into an unfit state of repair could threaten this income stream.

The research comes two years after two previous surveys from The Key found that 39% of school leaders felt their school buildings were unfit for purpose and nine in 10 were concerned about the growing need for more primary places.

Roche continued: “Our members in over a third of the country’s schools continuously come to us for guidance on maintaining their school buildings. They are looking for examples of good practice in identifying, monitoring and dealing with all kinds of issues and repairs, including health and safety.

“While our data shows that some improvements have been made over the past two years, there is still a long way to go until our school buildings are fully fit to support the needs of the children and young people they serve.”


1. £2.4 billion was allocated to 261 schools under the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) in 2012 – an average of £9,195,402 per school. The recent survey by The Key found that 35% of schools in England (8521.45 schools) believe their buildings are not fit for purpose. If each of these schools were refurbished at the average cost of the schools funded by the PSBP the total cost would be £78,358,158,372.9 (£78bn). School data figures sources from

2. 1,104 school leaders across England took part in The Key’s membership survey on school buildings in October 2014. To read the survey findings in full please visit School Buildings Survey

3. Property Data Survey Programme - Property Data Survey



Notes to Editors

  • The Key provides trusted, independent support and guidance to over a third of the schools in England and Wales. Our high-quality answers, guidance and events help busy school leaders and governors work with increased confidence, knowledge and capacity. We are passionate about supporting school leadership teams in delivering better outcomes for children and young people.
  • The Key for School Leaders and The Key for School Governors provide instant answers to questions on all aspects of school management.
  • Every day we speak to school leaders and governors and answer their questions. Each year there are over a million clicks on articles on our websites. This gives us unparalleled insights into the concerns, challenges and best practice within the sector.
  • We also run events on topical issues, which bring together leading voices from across the sector including expert practitioners, thought leaders, policy makers and school inspectors. These events, which are open to all, offer practical workshops, 1-2-1 sessions and networking opportunities.

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